Saturday, October 15, 2016

Students Acting Slothy? Teach Them Something Gothy!

The honeymoon is officially over, and it's about this time that students reveal subtle symptoms of slothy sluggishness.  Consequently, around late September/early October, I reach deep in my literacy bag of tricks for my go-to Gothic Literature unit.  Reading spine-tingling excerpts from DraculaFrankenstein, or Edgar Allan Poe are all but guaranteed to reignite enthusiasm from my students and possibly even the most reluctant of readers who have yet to reveal their literary chops.  (My hope is, in keeping with the theme, they are merely keeping me in suspense!)

That said, before plunging into the dark world of castles, chambers, and creepy cloisters, students require background information on Gothic Literature itself.  It is at this time we examine five basic elements of Gothic Literature, which I have classified into the following categories:

5 Elements of Gothic Literature

1) Elements of Superstition
  • Presence of ghosts, vampires, etc.
  • Unexplained sounds, sights, occurrences
  • Eerie atmosphere
  • Mysterious tone adds to building of tension

2) Emotions and Passions
  • Emotion surpasses rationality
  • Spells of hysteria, lust, and anxiety
  • Frequent crying and screaming
  • Detailed sensory description revealing characters’ passions
  • Characters experience terror and hysteria due to miasmic atmosphere

3) Broken Families
  • Families are often broken, incestuous, or murderous
  • Women subject to lustful wrongdoings 
  • Male characters are tyrannical
  • Women depicted as damsels in distress
  • Family unit confining, from which characters must escape

4) Eerie, mysterious setting
  • Claustrophobic, dark venues such as an old castle, mansion, or abbey
  • Places of fear and dread that portray the world as deteriorating
  • Desperate, dark ruined scenery
  • Surrounding area is dismal and rotting, often adding a haunting flavor of impending doom

5) Distinctive Characters
  • Characters are lonely, isolated, and oppressed
  • Presence of a tyrannical villain 
  • Action revolves around an unrequited love, or illicit love affair 
  • A vendetta or vengeance is a prominent theme

After my students are fully inducted into the world of Gothic Literature, it's time for them to write their own stories.  For inspiration, I offer some creepy music, telling them to listen at their own risk.  (Note to Blog Reader: Play at your own risk!)

Assignment: Write a Gothic Story...

The requirements are as follows:
  • Setting must be a large old house or graveyard
  • An unexplainable, scary event occurs in the house or graveyard 
  • Presence of the supernatural, such as a ghost, vampire, or werewolf
  • Unexplained phenomenon, such as doors slamming shut or lights turning on/off by themselves
  • Highly emotional characters who cry and scream
  • Implementation of Gothic symbols, such as a staircase, shadows, or a full moon.  

With a little inspiration from the darker works of the literary canon, students can't help but get their Goth on.  Whether you are a teacher, writer, or simply have a nagging nostalgia for Manic Panic, it's the perfect time to reach inside YOUR creepy bag of tricks and write your own Gothic tale.  

For more literary Goth inspiration, go to Kimberly's product store at:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Celebrate the Freedom to Read!!

Do you know it's Banned Books Week?

According to the American Library Association, here is a listing of ten classic books that are subject to being banned in American schools.  How many have you read?  Pick up a banned book this week and celebrate the freedom to read!!

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. The Catcher in the Rye

3. To Kill a Mockingbird

4. Bridge to Terabithia

5. The Lord of the Flies

6. Of Mice and Men

7. The Color Purple

8. Harry Potter Series

9. Slaughterhouse Five

10. The Bluest Eye

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Midsouth SCBWI Conference

I had a wonderful time (as always) at the Midsouth SCBWI conference this weekend.  An added bonus was winning an Honorable Mention in the Picture Book Category!!  Thank you Midsouth for the inspirational sessions, camaraderie, and sharing the kid lit writing spirit.   

Sunday, September 4, 2016

10 Not So Cringey Self-Promotion Ideas

Confession: No word gives me more angst than the boastful, hyphenated noun “self-promotion.”  I find the humble brag unsavory, so the thought of soliciting book sales from my middle school crush on Facebook is downright creepy.  Moreover, prowling around on social media websites in search of new friends and followers is a complete time suck.

“That’s it.  Self-promotion isn’t for me,” I confided to an author friend the night at my first book release party.  Biting into a salmon mousse canapé, she smirked amusingly - as if she knew so much better.  (Spoiler Alert: She did!)

Not wanting to rain on my cutesy appetizer-filled book parade, she later called to readjust my oh-so-naive and erroneous ways: “Author can not live by canapé alone.  You wanted to get into this racket.  Own the angst and sell yourself like a Gold Rush harlot!”

Touché.  Self-promotion is fraught with the cringiest of awkward moments, but my more experienced comrade was right.  Combing the social media circuit in search of friends, followers, and readers isn’t just necessary; it’s an integral part of the average author’s day.  I consoled myself with one small, comforting thought:  I can at least be smart about it.

Smart is always easier said than done.  Nonetheless, through a steady upswing of sales, a myriad of book signings, and more hours on social media than I care to admit, I managed to snag some amazing opportunities – all thanks to shameless self-promotion.  Never, for instance, did I think I would interview on an NBC morning show, speak to a room full of two hundred people, or have a tiny pigtailed fan beg me to write a sequel (which, of course, is the best accolade an author can ask for)!

I’ve made peace with self-promotion as a necessary evil that perhaps can’t be cured, but most certainly treated.  Furthermore, when played right, self-promotion can have a resounding ROI - Return on Investment when guided by a few rules:

Rule #1: Fortify your brand with a basic media kit.  The key essentials include an author website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and some eye-catching business cards.  Invest in a quality headshot taken by a professional photographer that can be used for your website and various promo ops.

Rule #2 – Always show gratitude and be professional – no matter what!  If no one shows up for a book signing, write a gracious thank you note to your host.  Ditto for author presentations.  Speak to your audience, no matter how meager the turnout, as though they are the V.I.P.’s of the world.  Hyper-prepare and be professional at all times, especially online.  It may be tempting to post snarky political comments or an old risqué college pic, but you are bound to offend someone – possibly an ardent agent or esteemed editor.  Don’t! Do! It!

Rule #3 – Choose wisely.  Promotion opportunities, especially ones with an excessive price tag, should be vetted carefully.  Book marketers and publicists will haggle you 24/7 with promises to make you the next Stephenie Meyer, only to drain you emotionally and financially.  Opt for affordable opportunities with a high ROI.

To that end, below are ten smart, economical, and (practically) cringe-less ways to promote yourself, your brand, and your books.

10 (Practically) Cringe-less Self-Promo Ideas 

1) Start weekly Twitter chats with readers.

2) Keyword your blog posts.

3) Create a monthly newsletter with news of upcoming events.

4) Post pictures of fans reading your book.

5) Host a book release party.  (Don’t forget the canapés!)

6) Create a Meet the Author or Writer Meetup group.

7) Provide a book link in your email signature.

8) Write magazine articles that your niche audience might read.

9) Post short stories on your blog.

10) Contact your alma mater. They might be willing to do a story on you.

Now put down the salmon mousse canapé and go sell yourself like a Gold Rush harlot, you brilliant author you!
 (Publishers Weekly, May 2, 2016)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Join Me at Killer Nashville!

Join me this Sunday, August 21st, at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference as I present about writing Point of View.

Sunday, August 21st, 2016 
Embassy Suites Hotel - Franklin, TN

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Parent's Guide to Surviving Middle School!

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…

6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.  

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed.
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus. Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list. This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language. When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.

Have a tween going into middle school?  Make sure they feel positive and prepared with Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School: 

This nostalgic read is both fun and informative in its perspective of middle school existence. The author's use of tweenie vernacular adds to character development and theme relevance.  - Readers Favorite

(Dana) knows her audience well, and has pitched this book to them perfectly, packing useful information into a fun, frothy read....Any sixth grade girl who's facing middle school as if it were a firing squad will find great comfort here.  Both entertaining and useful, How to Survive is a winner.  Starred Review - BlueInk Review 

Lucy and CeCee's guide to middle-school survival is a fast-paced, funny, and insightful book that will serve to clarify typical teen lingo and behavior for adults and give guidelines to tween and teenage kids who are having trouble navigating the middle-school milieu. - Clarion Reviews

But while the girls' teachings are often amusing, what really makes Dana's book exceptional are the girls themselves....Lucy and CeCee's target audience may consist solely of tweens, but this is a book that can educate readers of any age. - Kirkus Reviews

With plenty of humor and adventure, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School" is a strongly recommended addition to young adult fiction collections, not to be missed.  - Midwest Book Review

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Scene + Sequel = Story

Which is more important – plot or story?  It’s a writer’s debate as old as a scroll of papyrus.

The simple answer is both are critical to a satisfying read.  You book nerds know what I’m talking about.  The kind of read where ordinary life comes to a screeching halt.  You skip meals, stop returning phone calls, and maybe miss a hair wash or two - just so you can keep flipping those pages or swipe that screen.

So, what exactly is the difference between plot and story?  Although they are often used interchangeably, plot is the protagonist’s physical journey.  Story is the protagonist’s emotional journey. What we’re really talking about is scenes and sequels.  There are many ways you can look at this, but it really comes down to cause and effect.  Scenes are the CAUSE of a protagonist’s actions and Sequels are the EFFECT of those actions.  Put another way, scenes show and sequels tell.


Goal + Conflict = Disaster
Goal – What the character wants.  Must be clearly definable
Conflict – Series of obstacles that keep the character from the goal
Disaster – Makes the character fail to get the goal

If a scene is truly effective, the protagonist will fail to reach his or her goal and be worse off than before.  (Again, this drives the story forward keeps those pages flipping like Grandma’s pancakes).   Side note: Time always unifies a scene!


Reaction + Dilemma = Decision
Reaction – Emotional follow through of the disaster
Dilemma – A situation with no good options
Decision – Character makes a choice and sets up a new goal

If a sequel is truly effective, it will turn the disaster into a new established goal (which won’t be met, of course, until perhaps the end of the story).  It will establish the character’s motivation and force him or her to make a choice, which is the key to suspending disbelief.   This is the time for any character soul-searching or backstory.  Side note: Topic always unifies a sequel!

So to spring back to my original point, both scenes and sequels are what cause the reader to flip pages or swipe screens.  They both drive the story.  By using scenes and sequels effectively, you as the author control the pace of the story.

For instance, scenes read fast because they’re active keeping the reader engaged, whereas sequels slow down the pace of the story.  They give the reader time to breathe and contemplate as they TELL what happens rather than SHOW the events.  (The protagonist also takes five as they emote about the success or failure of their actions and think about options for Plan B, i.e. a new scene).  

Writing should flow like a song.  As with anything melodious, it requires harmony and balance.  By interweaving plot and story or scenes and sequels, a writer honors both the pace of the story and the evolution of the character.

So the next time you’re sitting around with your own Algonquin round table writing pals, and the topic of plot versus story comes up, lay it on thick with the scenes and sequels argument.  I don’t know about the sequel part but you’re sure to make a scene!